Wanna Be a Writer? Me Neither
OR: A Brief History of My Unpublished Works
My mom tells me that by the time I was three years old, I almost always had a sharpened pencil in my hand and although the thought of my siblings wielding such an instrument at that age elicited nightmare scenarios for mom involving unintentional eyeball gouging, she claims she never worried that I would use the pencil for anything other than its intended purpose: drawing and writing… sometimes on paper, but mostly on walls and cabinets.
And I think the fact that I never did/have poke(d) out my eyes (or anyone else’s) just goes to show what a goddamn creative professional I am and always have been.*
* Just wanted to put that out there for anyone interested in paying a writer/artist — who’s thus far managed to NEVER EVEN ONCE injure anyone with a pencil, pen or a computer** — to write or… art stuff.
**Though paper cuts were, at one time, an issue.
Given this apparent interest in writing utensils at such an early age, it was no surprise to anyone when I began writing my very first book at five years old. Oh sure, it may have been “written” in somewhat indecipherable, mostly phonetic “English,” but just the fact that I attempted such a thing seemed nonetheless impressive.
Tools of the Trade: Pencil, Paper, and a Disgruntled Five Year-Old
Armed with that crappy gray, little kid paper — the stuff with the giant rows of dashed lines to accommodate the spastic scrawl of a kindergartener (very similar in style to a psychotic ransom note) — I attempted to write my memoir.
I had maybe six months worth of genuine self-awareness under my belt and a 30-word vocab. It was time to start reflecting on my life.
The little-too-on-the-nose title was: My Crazy Family because, like most five year-olds, I felt qualified to evaluate, and then slander, the aggregate mental health of my entire household.* Basically, it was my version of Cinderella without the story arc or punctuation.
*I now suspect this was my elaborate form of payback because my mom was a hard-ass who refused to buy me bags of sugar and let me stay up until I passed out from a Captain Crunch-induced sugar rage.
Though the detailed plot points escape me, I do recall spending a significant amount of time recording my teenage brother’s daily activities. This of course required that I annoy the absolute shit out of him while he sat on the sofa watching Days of Our Lives with his girlfriend. I also remember that for purely descriptive purposes I frequently referred to my brother as a, quote, “stupid jerkface” (that being one of my best insults at the time — the other being, “YouShutUUUUP!” which immediately preceded, “I’m telling MOM!”) and frequently pointed out that his bedroom smelled like a wet dog.
Also, in order to maintain a sense of action, the entire manuscript was written in the present tense. So, it read like the field notes of a very small, barely literate anthropologist monitoring a group of suburban chimpanzees who spent a good chunk of time doing laundry, watching TV and eating tater tots. In other words, an instant bestseller!
Always supportive, my mom actively encouraged me to complete my “book.” “When you finish it, honey, “ Mom said, “we’ll send it to someone like Harper Collins and get it published.”
The idea being, “You’re five, so they have to publish it”…even though it lacks any semblance of a plot, a coherent narrative, or demonstrates even a modest grasp of ANY written language known to humankind.
In her eagerness to see her youngest write a bestseller, mom unwittingly planted this idea in my head that the big publishing houses automatically publish anything written and submitted by a five year old. Which then inadvertently led to me being absolutely devastated when I turned six and had not yet completed the first draft*
*Thanks to an over-dependence on adverbs, I managed a half-dozen pages of quadruple-spaced, massive text before losing interest and heading off to drown my Barbies in their Dream Pool (of death).
Recognizing that I was now past my prime — never to be recognized for my wunderkind storytelling skills, destined to forever toil in futility — I threw in the towel on my once promising writing career.
Until first grade.
This time everything would be different. Instead of a plot-free roasting of my family, I would undertake to master an entirely new genre. I’d allow my imagination to run wild and in so doing, tap into my greatest interest (outside of candy and waterboarding Barbie dolls): Scooby Doo.
My Biggest Writing Challenge to Date: Scooby Doo and the Case of the Really, Really, Really Scary Ghost
Oh yes. I remember it well — The funky Mystery Machine and that gang of cheaply animated, 70s teenagers who solved profoundly stupid crimes usually involving a guy in a mask and sometimes Cher, all to the truly odd choice of a laugh track. The fact that I never wondered where the audience was still embarrasses me.
The remarkable simplicity of the typical Scooby plots served as inspiration to a struggling child writer like myself. If adults could somehow get paid to write the same predictable story about a Yeti on a cruise ship (or whatever) over and over and over, I figured, so could I. I’d write the script (EASY), submit it to Hanna Barbera (OF COURSE) and by the next week, watch my episode on Saturday morning (DUH).
Clearly, this would be my breakout piece. Soon I would be making enough money to move my entire family to Disneyland (to live in Cinderella's castle).
I may have been delusional, but I’m beginning to think that the last time I had my shit together, I was six.*
Unlike my half-hearted attempt at memoir, I actually completed my Scooby manuscript and then… I dunno, maybe decided to play Pole Position on the Atari for three hours. This lack of follow-through probably had something to do with the fact that in first grade, I didn’t know how to submit an unsolicited script to a major television production company (I take it back, my shit was not together).
I also seem to recall my brother calling my writing “bad” and “stupid” — which, though he intended it as an insult, was exactly what Scoob and the gang specialized in and, hence, precisely the writing style I was going for (I still tell myself this every time I write a post).
But sadly, I was once again discouraged by the cruel nature of the creative muse (… also illiteracy, attention-deficit and I’m gonna throw capitalism under the bus here too because when bad stuff happens, it’s usually involved).
Holding my pencil in a tiny clenched fist, I raised my hand to the heavens, “Writing is so hard!” I exclaimed before forgetting all about Scooby Doo and writing and why I was upset and then going outside and riding my bike (and biting it on a curb, skinning my knee and sobbing uncontrollably).
Older But Not Wiser (or) ThunderPuff Gets Inspired & Graduates to Regular Notebook Paper (But Still Can’t Write in Cursive)
By the time I was six-and-a-half, I was all washed up. I clearly didn’t have that one special thing that all real writers seemed to have — an agent and a book deal (fine, two things). Oh, and confidence, persistence and inspiration (to save time: infinity things).
Until second grade.
Then, as if to taunt me and my shattered dreams, my teacher started assigning us daily writing tasks. I have very little recollection of what these assignments specifically required, I only remember that I spent a lot of time at my desk, writing about a bunch of totally made-up shit. In other words, I was once again a fiction writer!
Since I was still coming down from my “Scooby Doo” period (it was either that or Little House on the Stupid Boring Prairie — no cable) most of my stories tended toward the mystery genre and I seemed to be specifically obsessed with haunted houses. The story was always the same (like literally, THE SAME) and was written in third-person omniscient:
1. My friends and I stumble across a creepy, old, presumably haunted house
2. We enter it — ’cause when you see a haunted house (they’re everywhere!) that’s what you do
3. We encounter a ghost/goblin/ghoul
4. There’s an abrupt, derivative and contrived ending (i.e., I wake up… the end)
I got A’s on everything. This was a really peak time in my life.
I should also mention that I was a second grade double threat: I could write and draw. My stories always included illustrations that gave me a leg up with the teachers. Maybe the tense was off, or the tendency to forget little things (like periods and words) created a lag or break in the logic, but a really classy crayon drawing made up for any grammatical oversights. I was at the top of my game and I knew it was inevitable that I would grow up to be a successful writer and artist someday!
Until third grade…
…through junior high, high school, a good chunk of college… and every waking hour since.
Publishers: Any interest in a series of very short, incomplete stories about a group of kids to whom absolutely nothing of consequence happens?
Bonus! They’re all hand-written and mostly illegible.
If you don’t click the heart, I’ll not like you anymore!*
* Just kidding.
Other things I’ve made: